A confession: the main reason I'm writing this rather random drabble is because I'm having trouble deciding what to write next for HA. I have two ideas, both fairly extensive, and I like them both equally. I need the people who previously read and enjoyed 'Missing' to give me their thoughts! They are as follows:
*Magical Girl AU: Not a typical mahou shoujo story. An alien scouting party has the entire world on edge preparing for an invasion. The only real solution is to inject girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen with a compound that gives them reality-warping powers. It doesn't take to everyone, and the risks of being killed by the compound itself or dying in battle with the invading forces are very, very high. But when Phoebe gets picked in the draft, Helga volunteers without a second thought to protect her.
*Ye Olde Medieval Romance: My favourite film is Ever After, so this fic will be very inspired by that, but it will also have my own dose of slow-burn build up. Arnold is the prince of this faux-renaissance country, desperate to marry the (ultra-pious, very catholic) princess of a neighbouring kingdom. Helga is the youngest daughter of a noble house that has fallen on hard times, meaning she's the only one sensible enough to keep the household running just long enough for her sister to find some rich man to marry, and she is still besotted with a mystery boy who came to her aid when she was a small child. Their paths cross, and although they don't exactly like each other, grudging respect turns to fond friendship turns to something else...
Anyway, I have no idea. Please pick one so I don't have to.
And now, a fic.
In a way, it was surprising that it had taken nearly eight years' worth of dating Helga for someone to ask what it was like.
Gerald asked, over a crappy cafeteria lunch, and Arnold had to actually stop and think about it.
What is it like?
"Awkward," he said finally, and turned back to his awful sandwich.
But the word 'awkward' was loaded, multifaceted.
The first time he really felt awkward was getting her that expensive watch for her twelfth birthday. He'd saved up his allowance nearly the entire year to get her something really special, and he knew she needed a watch, and this one was in her colour, not too girly and not to grown-up, just a simple rose gold face, roman numerals and a black velvet strap.
But when he gave it to her, she reacted like she'd been slapped.
She thanked him, but it was mumbled. She put it on, but she spent the rest of that date looking like she wanted to chew her arm off. When he walked her home, she wouldn't even let him kiss her goodnight.
He despaired a bit at home, wondering what he had done wrong. He was still despairing the next day when Phoebe approached him at his locker.
"It was a nice gesture, but you shouldn't have," she sighed, without even a greeting.
"Why? I thought she'd like it," he sighed too.
"She does," Phoebe shrugged. "It's not the watch, it's that she knows you spent a lot of money on it. She can't accept expensive gifts."
Arnold shut his locker, leaned in closer. This was the first he'd heard of this.
"Why?" he asked. "I mean, she got me those hi-tops last year..."
"Her dad gets her expensive stuff sometimes. Real top-of-the-range stuff," Phoebe explained. "But then he always spends weeks using it to justify treating her like crap, so she can't complain. And she ends up hating that stuff."
That...made a lot of sense, actually. At one point he remembered she'd had a really fancy smartphone, one of the newest models to come out. Within a week she was back using her old broken-screen brick phone, no explanation. That tended to happen with a lot of her things.
Arnold felt a hot spike of anger run through him. He'd spent time and money on a nice gesture and Bob Pataki had ruined it even before he'd thought about getting the watch.
"It was a steep learning curve for me too," Phoebe told him. "I just stick to giving her the same notebook on her birthday and Christmas now. She always appreciates that."
Arnold did learn. The next few special occasions, he got her stationary. She was always a lot happier to get something cheap but useful. And eventually, the watch started appearing on her wrist a lot more.
It didn't really occur to him just how lucky he was until he was fourteen and overheard some of the older grade boys discussing girls they liked on the other side of the locker room.
"...Coley's got a nice rack, but Pataki's got a better ass."
His spine immediately straightened when he heard her name mentioned. He crouched by his locker, hoping they wouldn't realize he was there.
"Yeah, okay, Pataki is hot. Like, ridiculously hot. But you don't have a chance, 'cos she's going out with that dweeb with the big head."
"I never said her eyes were any good," the boy quipped and his friends laughed.
For hours afterwards, his head spun.
Oh God, he's right!
When they'd started dating, Helga was an undeniably homely little girl with features too big for her face. At some point, and completely without Arnold's noticing, adolescence had blessed her with a kiss from an angel (or something equally poetic.) She got taller, she filled out, her features finally fit her face and it just happened to be in time for distinctive eyebrows to become a hot fashion trend.
Meanwhile, adolescence had hit Arnold with all the force of a freight train. His already awkwardly-shaped head looked even more out of place when he shot up like a beanstalk and couldn't put on weight for love nor money. He couldn't grow enough facial hair to look rugged but shaving gave him huge blotchy rashes. His voice cracked, even though it had always been fairly low. To top it all off, his forehead and cheeks were ground zero for pimple outbreaks. Helga's face remained insultingly clear.
What do people see when they see us together?
When they were kids, either they thought it was weird he was dating the girl who had tormented him throughout most of elementary school or they thought it was cute in a sort of aww-look-at-the-kids-they-think-they're-in-a-real-relationship kind of way. The fact that their relationship survived well into their teens let this situation creep up on him.
That night, she came over to his house to study. Lying on his bed in what suddenly looked like the world's tightest pair of jeans, idly tapping a pen on her bottom lip as she calculated the math worksheet, he wondered how this had happened to him.
"Arnold!" she yelled suddenly.
"Huh? What?" he spluttered.
"For the third time, what did you get for number 27?" she asked, frowning over at him.
"Oh, uh..." he mumbled, looking down at his own worksheet. "I haven't got that far..."
She sighed, and shut her math book, and that was how he knew he was in for it.
"What's up with you?" she asked, folding her arms (how did she manage to make that look hot, how?)
"Nothing," he squeaked (curse his breaking voice!)
"You suck at lying."
He took a deep breath.
"Why are you with me?" he asked.
The anger left her face entirely, replaced by utter confusion.
"Why are you with me?" he repeated. "I mean, it's not like you don't have other options..."
"Are you breaking up with me?" she asked, and then he felt extra bad because her eyes were full of hurt.
"No, God no," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "I just...I dunno, I feel like you could have any guy you want, and you're stuck with me."
"I don't want any other guy," she said, her eyes narrowed to thin slits. "And I'm not stuck with you, thank you very much. If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't be."
Arnold breathed a sigh of relief, even though he was now so much more aware of his gangliness, his problematic skin, his strange voice. She seemed to understand now, because her posture had softened, and she reached out to him, pulled him down onto the bed with her to hold him in her arms.
"You're all I ever wanted," she told him. "That hasn't changed. It's not going to."
Arnold mostly went shopping alone, because he always went to the same store to buy the same jeans and it didn't make a very exciting trip. Helga just happened to be there on one of the trips because they were going to the movies afterwards.
While he was picking his jeans, she was engaged in some sort of argument with someone on a forums board, typing furiously on her phone. She was still at it when he went to the check-out.
The lady at the check-out was one of those super image-conscious people that were probably hired specifically to make people question their self-esteem. The shop was part of a franchise that were obnoxious about catering only to incredibly attractive people and only filling their shop with attractive people. Arnold kept coming back because the jeans fit so well, but he always left feeling a bit inadequate. Hell, they probably only let him in the store this time because he was with Helga.
Check-out lady was so contoured it was near impossible to tell what she looked like in real life. Her face had that odd colouring-book sheen to it.
"How can I help you today?" she asked, in a tone that sounded more like what do you think you're trying to achieve shopping here?
"I want to buy these please," Arnold answered. Just take my money and let me leave with my dignity.
"Certainly," she replied, taking the jeans to scan. "Just to remind you, there's no return policy on sale items." Don't come back unless you have more money.
She continued her mildly snotty spiel, only to trail off uncomfortably midway. She put her face down and scanned the labels, turning visibly red under her many layers of beige.
Arnold turned slightly, and realized what happened.
Helga had apparently finished her argument, and was staring at the saleslady with a face that spoke of murder. She didn't even have to say anything as the bag with the jeans was silently passed over.
Talk to him like that again and I'll rip your face off.
"I don't get it," Arnold groaned.
"What's to get?" Helga retorted, slamming down the textbook. "I keep telling you, anti-Semitism was common back then, you have to read it keeping that in mind!"
"Yeah, I know," he groaned again. "I just don't understand why they made him convert..."
The Merchant of Venice was proving a tough read. Along with being boring (as far as Arnold was concerned) it was confusing as to whose side it was on. Nobody in the play seemed like a good person.
Helga didn't have the same issue with the text, and he envied her. She always got straight A's when it came to literature, and he thought if anyone could help him study and understand the play she would. Unfortunately, he was either proving to be totally stupid or the text was just incomprehensible.
"Don't concentrate on how good you think they should be," she told him. "Look, this was written for a widely Christian audience and as far as they were concerned the Christian characters already have the moral high ground."
She sighed, leaning back against the wall.
"How many times did you read it?"
"About three times," he said.
"You should have read through it ten times by now, and made notes," she growled.
"I know," he groaned again. "But it's so boring, I can't concentrate on it."
She hummed thoughtfully for a moment.
"So...what you need is some sort of incentive? Beyond the grade, I mean."
"I guess," he agreed, but he was absolutely sure there was no incentive powerful enough to...
"Get an A on this assignment and I'll show you my boobs," she said.
He nearly choked. She had only just turned sixteen, and they had never gone any further than making out. That she said it so casually made him think he'd misheard her.
"Get an A+ and I'll even let you touch one," she added.
On the one hand, it was ridiculous to think that he could be motivated by a flighty promise of seeing some naked breasts (not just any, but his acknowledged ridiculously hot girlfriend who was still with him for some reason) but once he sat down to read the book again he found himself scrupulously taking notes.
Every time a character went into a long monologue and he was tempted to do something else, he remembered what he had to gain. Anything he didn't get, he memorized just in case. He watched the Al Pacino version to see if it helped him understand (it didn't, really) and then he downloaded the Globe Theatre version (that did help, because as Helga explained it was staged just as it would have been in Shakespeare's time.)
When he handed in the assignment, he spent the next day paranoid that for all his work he'd get a C, a B if he was lucky. He was actually very surprised when it came back with an A+.
That evening, he supposed it was very sweet that Helga believed in him enough to wear a bra that opened at the front.
"Awkward?" Gerald said with a frown. "That's it?"
"That's it," Arnold shrugged.
No more needed to be said, really.